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View Full Version : The Political Brain - More Evidence of Evolved Psychology


TomJrzk
June 28th, 2006, 04:54 PM
From http://www.sciam.com/article.cfm?articleID=000CE155-1061-1493-906183414B7F0162&sc=I100322:
During the run-up to the 2004 presidential election, while undergoing an fMRI bran scan, 30 men--half self-described as "strong" Republicans and half as "strong" Democrats--were tasked with assessing statements by both George W. Bush and John Kerry in which the candidates clearly contradicted themselves. Not surprisingly, in their assessments Republican subjects were as critical of Kerry as Democratic subjects were of Bush, yet both let their own candidate off the hook.
The neuroimaging results, however, revealed that the part of the brain most associated with reasoning--the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex--was quiescent. Most active were the orbital frontal cortex, which is involved in the processing of emotions; the anterior cingulate, which is associated with conflict resolution; the posterior cingulate, which is concerned with making judgments about moral accountability; and--once subjects had arrived at a conclusion that made them emotionally comfortable--the ventral striatum, which is related to reward and pleasure. More evidence that this evolved brain has more control over our psychology than is obvious. There can be no 'free will' if our brains are subconsciously affecting our thoughts and decisions.

Margaret McGhee
June 29th, 2006, 12:59 PM
Hi Tom, I'm pleased you picked up on this. I read it last week when my SciAm issue arrived in the mail. The sub-head for the article is: A recent brain-imaging study shows that our political predilections are a product of unconscious confirmation bias

Of course, I see this confirmation bias and the results of this study as a subset of my larger assertion - that Behavior choice (decision-making) in humans is the result of a subconscious summation of somatic effects.

It is becoming increasingly evident that emotions provide the only real force that causes direction and choice of activities in all living things. In humans, emotions also cause us to conceptualize and think about things - and come to conclusions (behavior decisions). They are part of a closed loop, the purpose of which is to make us feel good.

Emotions cause thinking - and emotions are the result of thinking. Thinking (conceptualizing) is a peculiar adaptation - an external subroutine that sometimes produces more useful results than behavior decisions based on more pure emotion - sans intellect.

But, the only reality that living things can truly experience is through our emotions. Our most profound thoughts only have value according to the emotions they foster in terms of their percieved survival value. What we think about the world is just a crude caricature of that emotional reality. And yet, we are so certain that our thoughts and intellectual conclusions are the only reality worth knowing - that we go to war and kill each other in the name of those conclusions (Gods).

Thinking may be useful - we have evolved to depend on it and can not now exist without doing a lot of it. But, the very objectivity that makes it useful, separates us from what is real on the emotional level - and that allows us to make bad decisions and reach unrealistic, self-destructive concusions.

Margaret

TomJrzk
June 29th, 2006, 01:47 PM
I see this confirmation bias and the results of this study as a subset of my larger assertionYes, I started adding a paragraph on how much this supports your hypothesis, but decided that I'd leave it up to you. ;)

It's good to hear from you and I'm glad you're still monitoring...

Fred H.
June 29th, 2006, 11:34 PM
TomJ: More evidence that this evolved brain has more control over our psychology than is obvious.
Old news. The neuroscience showing us that the primitive, subconscious, subcortical emotional/motivational mechanisms have much influence over human cognitive consciousness has been “obvious” for some time now, certainly since I’ve been posting to this forum, circa 2000.

The question is whether we humans are ever able to truly discern and evaluate reality and/or objective truth and make rational decisions and choices, that may be contrary to our emotions and/or preconceived beliefs/perceptions and behave accordingly—whether we can cognitively change/modify emotions/beliefs/perceptions through downward causation.

If indeed the primitive, subconscious, subcortical “emotions provide the only real force that causes direction and choice of activities” in us, as MM and Tom seem to be claiming, then the bottom line is that we all, ultimately, are merely automatons. In which case whatever any of us happen to think or believe, or whatever our POV, it’s all, at best, an illusion having no more meaning or reality than whatever any random chimp, or any other animal, might happen to “think” or “believe.” In which case none of us are right or wrong about anything—we simply experience our illusions and the blind physical forces of natural selection will select for the illusions that happen to result in survival and the most offspring . . . in an indifferent universe of electrons, selfish genes, blind physical forces, and genetic replication.

Margaret McGhee
June 29th, 2006, 11:54 PM
Hi Tom, I don't want to overstate my case. It's just that we live in a society where left brain science is considered the only valid path to enlightenment. I see that view as a serious impediment. It's not that I don't appreciate the objective layers of reality that can become available through scientific pursuit. It's just that we don't understand how seriously un-objective that path actually is.

We are first of all, compelled to pursue scientific truth for emotional reasons - usually to do with identity. And that's good when the identity image we choose is actually to be an objective pursuer of truth - wherever it may lead. For many young scientists I'm sure that's the ideal.

The problem is that eventually scientists become even more strongly attached to some idea or concept that they then champion. Their fame and fortune becomes a product of the success of that idea - and they can no longer be the objective scientist they claimed to be - or imagined themselves to be.

Just like the political partisans in that study, they seek the emotional rewards of charting new territory by using their intellect to confirm (justify) their position. It becomes the window through which they see the world.

For JimB it seems to be the emergent network stuff - which seems a useful window - though I don't fully understand it. For me, it is seeing behavior as the result of the emotion-mediated process that I have described. (Although, I certainly don't consider myself a scientist, as JimB is.)

But, scientist or not, I believe that this is simply a result of being human. We are driven by emotion to do what we do. And we are driven to seek an emotional payoff for it. Our brains and our grasp of objective reality are tools for that purpose - nothing more. Our ability to uncover reality depends on how much our identity remains attached to that thankless ideal - a pursuit that must produce its own self-contained rewards.

Because it is so difficult for humans to achive that idealistic state, we fortunately have a peer review system that serves to correct the inherent errors our emotionally driven intellects are certain to produce. That and the nature of funding for research means that science is largely a competitive ego-saturated pursuit. Perhaps it's the best system that can be realized, based on human emotion, as it is.

But, just knowing that one's biases are sure to be quickly and ignobly exposed is a force for the better. If anything, scientific progress is much more the result of the design and healthy operation of that system, it seems, than to any particular scientist's intellect.

Just some thoughts.

Margaret

Margaret McGhee
June 30th, 2006, 01:13 AM
Fred, you say that, The question is whether we humans are ever able to truly discern and evaluate reality and/or objective truth and make rational decisions and choices, that may be contrary to our emotions and/or preconceived beliefs/perceptions and behave accordingly—whether we can cognitively change/modify emotions/beliefs/perceptions through downward causation.

The question you pose is not possible if, as I suggest, emotions are how our bodies interpret the world, including our own contemplated actions, as either good or bad for us.

However we interpret those estimates, is how we are compelled to act, in my view. There is only one causation, that being in our own percieved interest. And our emotions are the barometer of that index. We could not have evolved any other way. i.e. we could not have evolved to produce emotions that lead us to actions that are, on aggregate, against our own interest, against our survival - on any objective scale.

The downward causation you speak of is really only a more refined method of generating more nuanced emotions - a way of elevating our emotional pleasure at contemplating those actions that you would consider more refined and less base. That's a perfectly human way to devolp. Our pre-frontal cortex seems to be the location where those emotional evaluations are made - and that is subject to learning as we grow.

Our behavior can not be a way of acting in opposition to our net emotional estimate of the results of our actions. Your downward causation is a way of considering what you would call more refined inputs. But, the result will always be to act in regard to the summation of those inputs we do consider.

You may call that downward causation. I would more accurately call it a summing of and greater appreciation for more refined inputs from possibly the social conscience but certainly the belief area of our brain into our decision mechanism.

Your belief in God seems to compell you to find a soul-like mechanism that some of us are supposedly endowed with that can act in opposition to our nature. As I don't labor under that restriction I am free to see our behavior as the result entirely of what is in us already - of both our inherited nature that we are born with and the social nature we develop as we mature.

I have no objection to you calling that the force of God as I believe I understand why you and others need to do that. But, you should not be offended when I and others see it simply as another facet of human nature. The mechanism operates the same for both of us. It will produce the same results given the same inputs. We do favor different inputs, however.

Margaret

Fred H.
June 30th, 2006, 09:13 AM
Fred: The question is whether we humans are ever able to truly discern and evaluate reality and/or objective truth and make rational decisions and choices, that may be contrary to our emotions and/or preconceived beliefs/perceptions and behave accordingly—whether we can cognitively change/modify emotions/beliefs/perceptions through downward causation.

MM: The question you pose is not possible if, as I suggest, emotions are how our bodies [and minds] interpret the world, including our own contemplated actions, as either good or bad for us.
Bingo—and that’s why nonhuman, non-sentient creatures, that actually are automatons of a sort, don’t truly consider such questions.
MM: Your belief in God seems to compell you to find a soul-like mechanism that some of us are supposedly endowed with that can act in opposition to our nature.
Nonsense. However, I’d guess that it’s your own belief in chance/randomness that compels you to see and interpret things as you do—that we humans are merely creatures “driven by emotion to do what we do . . . driven to seek an emotional payoff for it.” And that’s why one can never attach any meaning or significance to whatever you, MM, happen to believe or say here, since, as you declare and believe, you’re merely a creature “driven by emotion to do what we do . . . driven to seek an emotional payoff for it.” Hello?

(Although I find your incessant allusions to “God,” while mostly irrelevant and mildly annoying, somewhat amusing, and perhaps a bit revealing.)

TomJrzk
June 30th, 2006, 09:58 AM
In which case whatever any of us happen to think or believe, or whatever our POV, it’s all, at best, an illusion having no more meaning or reality than whatever any random chimp, or any other animal, might happen to “think” or “believe.”Ah, but it means much, much, much more than that. We, alone, have the power to control the ultimate fate of our world and our own species. Through these studies, we CAN realize that most of our beliefs ARE pure emotion!!!

Then, we CAN realize that our faith in one pretend 'god' is no more real than the faith put into other pretend 'god's. Then, we CAN stop the killing that all this mislaid faith causes. Then, we can add REAL meaning to our lives.

Heaven, on Earth.

Margaret McGhee
June 30th, 2006, 11:58 AM
Since I'm not spending so much time here anyway - I'll offer you one extra chance to engage in this discussion politely. You say, Bingo—and that’s why nonhuman, non-sentient creatures, that actually are automatons of a sort, don’t truly consider such questions. Nonhuman, non-sentient creatures don't consider such questions because their minds are not designed with an adaptive ability to conceptualize. Our ability to do that does not relieve us from emotional motives for our behavior, it only adds another input to the emotional weighing mechanism. However, conceptualizing and human reason has its faults as well. The emotional forces it produces are not always based on good logic or adequate data - and, we use it as often as not to logically justify the particular non-intellectual emotional signals that we'd prefer to follow. Much like proponents of ID do these days in their far-fetched arguments to insert a soul into the human mind.

When you say, "Nonsense", you are expressing an emotional response to my post. It is a borderline insult. It ususally signals stronger insults to follow in your posts. It is one example of what makes a discussion with you so useless, from my perspective.

When you say, I’d guess that it’s your own belief in chance/randomness that compels you to see and interpret things as you do—that we humans are merely creatures “driven by emotion to do what we do . . . driven to seek an emotional payoff for it. I don't have a belief in randomness - except perhaps as a way to characterize the mutations that allow evolution to try many different designs and problem solutions as a species evolves. If that's what you mean, you are conflating proximate and non-proximate causation when you say that I believe that animal behavior is random - a high-school level debating tactic. (Note that this last phrase is emotionally driven. My emotions are aroused whenever someone tries to insert religious dogma into a scientific discussion.)

Animal behavior is not random. It is the result of seeking specific emotional payoffs - the ones each species is designed to seek by its nature. If it were random then there would be no canine or feline or human nature, different from the others.

When you say And that’s why one can never attach any meaning or significance to whatever you, MM, happen to believe or say here, since, as you declare and believe, you’re merely a creature “driven by emotion to do what we do . . . driven to seek an emotional payoff for it.” Hello? . . . we find the expected emotionally driven escalation in insults. Here, there is no attempt whatsoever to engage the substance of my post with that objective reasonableness that you claim is the higher human condition. Instead, you respond on a purely emotional level. This is obviously caused by the fact that your strong beliefs about a place for God in the human soul have been questioned by my premise.

You confirm this completely when you say, (Although I find your incessant allusions to “God,” while mostly irrelevant and mildly annoying, somewhat amusing, and perhaps a bit revealing.) . . . you provide a revealing description not of the scientific reasonableness (or not) of my premise but a description of how my premise makes you feel, emotionally.

I suspect that pointing this out and questioning the sincerety of your motives will make you even more angry and therefore this thread is probably at an end as far as you and I are concerned. Que lastima.

Margaret

Fred H.
June 30th, 2006, 12:33 PM
Tom: Through these studies, we CAN realize that most of our beliefs ARE pure emotion!!!
Congratulations Tom. Looks like you’ve finally more or less acknowledged that we humans “CAN” indeed cognitively/consciously discern reality/truth and behave accordingly . . . but a little caution might be judicious here—I don’t think the tentative inferences from these studies makes utopia a slam-dunk quite yet.

I am encouraged that while on the one hand you seem to appreciate the influence of emotion on our conscious reasoning and behavior, it seems that you now also are beginning to grasp that we humans also “CAN” discern reality and truth and also “CAN” choose to behave accordingly . . . and hopefully this will soon lead you to more fully comprehending and acknowledging the reality of human moral responsibility. Oh happy day.

TomJrzk
June 30th, 2006, 01:00 PM
Looks like you’ve finally more or less acknowledged that we humans “CAN” indeed cognitively/consciously discern reality/truth and behave accordingly . . . I've said in the past that we do make choices, just that those choices are tied directly to the state of our brains; that there is no free will. My brain chose to write those words, and my words may affect the state of others' brains, who may therefore make different choices. There's nothing 'meaningless' about it.

Fred H.
June 30th, 2006, 01:23 PM
MM: The emotional forces it produces are not always based on good logic or adequate data - and, we use it as often as not to logically justify the particular non-intellectual emotional signals that we'd prefer to follow.
If indeed humans are, as you declare, nothing more than creatures “driven by emotion to do what we do . . . driven to seek an emotional payoff for it,” then neither you nor any human can ever truly, objectively know, one way or the other, what is “good logic or adequate data.”


MM: When you say, "Nonsense", you are expressing an emotional response….
Well MM, as you see things—that we are nothing more than creatures “driven by emotion to do what we do . . . driven to seek an emotional payoff for it”—of course. Using your circular reasoning, how could it be otherwise?

But as I see things, I truthfully and in reality do find that much of what you declare/believe to be “nonsense,” and I suspect that others here may also more or less agree.

Margaret McGhee
June 30th, 2006, 02:11 PM
Fred sed, If indeed humans are, as you declare, nothing more than creatures “driven by emotion to do what we do . . . driven to seek an emotional payoff for it,” then neither you nor any human can ever truly, objectively know, one way or the other, what is “good logic or adequate data.” Ultimately, that is true. To overcome this limitation we construct provisional models for determining those things - and then we test them against reality. These are found in math, science, etc. But, these models are mental constructs, conceptual chimeras made from neural nets with peculiar characteristics. They may or may not resemble objective reality.

That's why science is provisional. It is an admission that a human understanding of objective realty is a goal that can never be realized - that the neurons we use to conceptualize the universe can never replace the reality of that universe, nor the emotional mechanism that is our only true connection to that universe. We can only create models that seem to work better than previous models. That doesn't mean that it's not worth trying to improve them. But, the conceptual models we create can never replace the physical reality that we hope to describe with them.

Fred sed, Well MM, as you see things—that we are nothing more than creatures “driven by emotion to do what we do . . . driven to seek an emotional payoff for it”—of course. Using your circular reasoning, how could it be otherwise? Indeed. However, I take exception to your phrase "nothing more than creatures driven by emotion". It seems like a pretty clever control system to me, seeing as how it is responsible for everything that humans have ever done, including generating the ideas expressed in this forum, as a very simple example.

Perhaps, you'd like to explain how your downward causation provides behavior choice - without a controlling emotional force behind it. It is not necessary to do that in order to prove me wrong. But, for somone so certain that downward causation is an integral part of behavior choice, I would think you (or some scientist) could have proposed some mechanism by which it could provide those (non-emotional) behavior choices by now. LeDoux has never done that as far as I know.

My hypothesis however, does account for what you call downward causation. It is the emotions produced by our social conscience in the medial pre-frontal cortex - or perhaps by our intellect in our neo-cortex. In socially enlightened and/or logically capable persons, those emotional forces can be very strong.

It seems that every few weeks another study comes out showing the fundamental connection of emotion to behavior choice, like the study that Tom referred to at the start of this thread.

Saying that an explanation is circular does not disprove it. As others have noted, the most fundamental conceptual explanations of nature are inherently circular. This may be a problem for creatures who conceptualize. However, since the universe was here long before conceptualizing humans, I doubt it is a flaw in the fabric of the universe.

Fred sed, But as I see things, I truthfully and in reality do find that much of what you declare/believe to be “nonsense,” and I suspect that others here may also more or less agree. Then, let them find logical fault with my premise, something that you have completely failed to do.

Remember, you were going to provide a single example where a human has overcome their need to seek emotional gratification and has made a logical or moral decision against their emotional nature in a behavior choice.

Margaret

Fred H.
June 30th, 2006, 05:08 PM
MM: Then, let them find logical fault with my [circular] premise….
Circularity is a “logical fault.” Hello?

I find your lack of rigor and consistency extraordinary . . . you actually do seem to be something of an automaton . . . really, that’s not just an "emotional response" on my part.

Margaret McGhee
June 30th, 2006, 06:08 PM
I have offered an explanation for behavior choice in animals that says we seek emotional payback - to increase our sense of well-being - in our behavior choices. I have stated that that is all that is needed to allow a human, a dog, a cat or a fish, for that matter, to choose behavior from its repertoire that would support its survival.

I have offered several examples that plausibly illustrate this mechanism. Since I have no way of quantifying emotional force I do not claim that I have proven my hypothesis - that behavior choice is the result of a summation of those emotional forces. That doesn't make my explanation circular - it just leaves me without a way to quantify its operation. It certainly doesn't disprove it.

While I can't prove my hypothesis you can disprove it. You only need to provide one example where it fails to account for behavior choice - where something other than seeking emotional fulfillment causes behavior choice to be made in opposition to that emotional fulfillment. Until you do that, it remains a highly plausible candidate for an explanation of behavior choice in animals.

You say, I find your lack of rigor and consistency extraordinary . . . you actually do seem to be something of an automaton . . . really, that’s not just an "emotional response" on my part.Saying that I lack rigor and consistency and am somewhat of an automoton is nothing but an emotional response. From reading your posts over the last several months I doubt you have the capacity to make an argument that did not emotionally disparage your opponent's view. You live in a world where the emotions of your belief system control every thought you have and every statement you make. Every abstract concept that occurs in your mind has one purpose - to affirm your theistic belief system and attack all who do not share it. That's not only the reason you participate in this forum, based on the amount of time you seem to have available for this mission, it's no doubt what you live for. Such is life inside the mind of an ideologue. Such is the power of the emotions of strong belief systems when they are allowed to infect one's mind. Thanks for illustrating this so well.

Except for a few posts where you comically implied that JimB or Todd agreed with you about something, I doubt I can find a post where you did not have something nasty to say about someone else or their ideas.

If you actually had a point to make I suspect you would have made it by now. I don't have time for high-school level debating games about God and the associated name calling. As I said before, I'll check back once in a while to see if anything worthwhile is happening here.

Margaret

Fred H.
July 1st, 2006, 10:10 AM
MM: . . . is nothing but an emotional response.
Of course MM, b/c as you see things, under your paradigm, everything everyone does is for emotional payoff b/c everything everyone does is for emotional payoff—see the unavoidable, unfalsifiable circularity, that renders your so called “hypothesis” useless, as I and others have patiently splained to you over and over and over again? Earth to Margaret—Hello? Hello?

Maybe MM’s blindness here is an example of Tom’s so-called “repressor module” hypothesis? You two, Tom & Margaret, might consider blending your hypotheses into a new and improved: The T&M repressor module/emotional payoff hypothesis— Everything everyone does is for emotional payoff and the repression module represses anything that might jeopardize that emotional payoff . . . b/c everything everyone does is for emotional payoff and the repression module represses anything that might jeopardize that emotional payoff….

Be that as it may, humans, unlike the other animals, can and do discern objective (mathematical) truth and can utilize that truth to measure and comprehend the realities of our world, to make predictions about our world, and to somewhat manage/control our world; and by downward causation humans, unlike the other animals, can modify what we instinctively feel and believe about our world, e.g., the earth is not really flat, the universe that we find ourselves in has not always been here, and entropy only increases.

TomJrzk
July 1st, 2006, 03:56 PM
see the unavoidable, unfalsifiable circularity, that renders your so called “hypothesis” useless,I'm sorry, Fred, you're wrong again.

There is a logical fault called circularity but that is not present in Margaret's argument because she's doesn't say she's proved anything.

Take hunger as an example. People said in the past "I always eat because I'm hungry". Why? Because whenever I'm hungry, I eat. The circularity here just means that the conclusion can not be fully suported with that little of evidence; it doesn't mean that it's wrong. So, these people have not proven that they eat because they are hungry, it's just their working hypothesis. It's not proven until scientists show that the brain signals hunger when blood sugar goes low and we get sugar from carbohydrates that we eat; plus, we ultimately need the sugars to create ATP in mitochondria for energy.

Of course, you can disprove this hypothesis by showing one time each person eats when they are not hungry.

Take Margaret's hypothesis as an example. She is not saying that she proved that all decisions are emotional, just that it's her best guess. And, thinking that every decision she's seen so far has been emotional makes that a damn good first guess and one I wouldn't argue against. She even asked for counter examples.

If someone discovers decision mitochondria that rely on emotion chemicals, then they could prove it. Your taunting with vacuous arguments can not disprove it. Margaret's hypothesis is not 'useless'; in fact, it's probably true.

Fred H.
July 1st, 2006, 05:15 PM
Tom: Of course, you can disprove this hypothesis by showing one time each person eats when they are not hungry.
You err my shortsighted friend—by MM’s circular reasoning, you could tell her that you’re not hungry, that you’re actually full (maybe even vomit a few times for confirmation), but that you’re going to chose to eat a piece of apple pie anyway, and then eat the piece of pie—but then MM, using her circular reasoning, could say that regardless of what you may have thought or believed about your hunger, you were in fact hungry b/c the only reason people eat is b/c they’re hungry and therefore you were in fact hungry, although you may not have been consciously aware that you were hungry.

And that, Tom, is why Margaret's circular hypothesis is useless—thanks for making the uselessness of her circularity so clear with your hunger example, albeit apparently unwittingly. Perhaps even MM will now begin to grasp the uselessness.

TomJrzk
July 2nd, 2006, 02:47 PM
MM, using her circular reasoning, could say that regardless of what you may have thought or believed about your hunger, you were in fact hungry b/c the only reason people eat is b/c they’re hungry and therefore you were in fact hungry, although you may not have been consciously aware that you were hungry.No, you've mischaracterized her reasoning. She's saying that you ate that pie for emotional reasons, and the part of your interpretation of your feeling of hunger that was partly intellectual added one of many emotional reasons to eat pie. Your brain weighed all the emotional reasons, including instincts and your desire to prove MM wrong, and stuffed pie down your throat.

Not only useless, but probably correct. You would not eat pie unless you WANTED to eat pie.

That's pretty clear to me.

Fred H.
July 2nd, 2006, 05:01 PM
Tom: No, you've mischaracterized her reasoning. She's saying that you ate that pie for emotional reasons….

Nonsense Tom—any mischaracterization is your own. You were the one that specifically said: Take hunger as an example. People said in the past "I always eat because I'm hungry". Why? Because whenever I'm hungry, I eat. The circularity here just means that the conclusion can not be fully suported with that little of evidence; it doesn't mean that it's wrong.
And that’s what I did Tom—per your request, I took “hunger as an example,” and clearly showed how/why MM’s (or anyone’s for that matter) circular reasoning, whether it be for hunger, or emotions, or whatever, is useless . . . and thanks again Tom for providing the example of hunger since it provides such a an unambiguous picture of how/why circular reasoning is useless.

Margaret McGhee
July 2nd, 2006, 05:02 PM
Tom, As you know, my hypothesis is that behavior choice in animals, including humans, is an emotion driven process that attempts to produce a favorable emotional outcome. In humans, intellect provides another emotional input that's sometimes available for enhanced decison-making. I write this post, not to convince anyone or change their mind about this, but to clarify for myself some of the more important implications.

One of the human behaviors most susceptible to this emotion driven process is the opinions we form and hold about the world. We all love to believe that our own opinions are derived from the most rigorous logical and objective processes - and that those who don't share our opinions are just not very good thinkers.

From the article "We did not see any increased activation of the parts of the brain normally engaged during reasoning," Westen is quoted as saying in an Emory University press release. "What we saw instead was a network of emotion circuits lighting up, including circuits hypothesized to be involved in regulating emotion, and circuits known to be involved in resolving conflicts." Interestingly, neural circuits engaged in rewarding selective behaviors were activated. "Essentially, it appears as if partisans twirl the cognitive kaleidoscope until they get the conclusions they want, and then they get massively reinforced for it, with the elimination of negative emotional states and activation of positive ones," Westen said.

The implications of the findings reach far beyond politics. A jury assessing evidence against a defendant, a CEO evaluating information about a company or a scientist weighing data in favor of a theory will undergo the same cognitive process.

I interpret this as falling squarely within the predictions that my hypothesis makes regarding beliefs. I see beliefs as a primary source of the emotions we bring to bear on our conclusions and opinions about others and the world we observe. As we mature, our beliefs grow to form a set of mutually supporting opinions. We seldom expose our beliefs to logical examination - the results could be uncomfortable, negative emotional payback. Instead we expose them to our other beliefs - that we have already selected to support them - ensuring that good warm feeling of believing that we are alway right. The study vividly shows how this works in the brain. It also explains why we like to associate with those who share our beliefs.

By the time we are adults, when we are exposed to new information, our first instinct is to see if it fits in with our existing beliefs. If it does not, we may reject it out of hand. If asked, we will put our mind to work coming up with logical reasons why it could not possibly be true. If it does fit, we do the opposite. It feels so right. We have no trouble rationalizing reasons why it simply must be true.

However, some have worked hard to develop the ability to make rational judgements and think objectively about new information - to guard against emotion in that process. Good scientists strive to develop this ability - although not all scientists are so good at it.

The internet provides a wonderful lab to observe this in action. Almost all discussions about politics or philosophy (and psychology) are vivid illustrations of this. Most comments made in discussion groups like this are rationalizations for or against the beliefs that the commentors already hold in their minds. Some commentors are very intelligent and very skilled at making these rationalizations - disguising them as unbiased objective arguments.

Sometimes however, new information and new ideas are actually explored in online discussion. It's easy to see the difference between the two modes. In one, people question and offer observations - in the other, insults fly. Most often, and most unfortunately, the modes coexist - with some members trying to discuss human nature while others, whose beliefs may be threatened, throw insults at them.

There are differences between personalities in this online process. First, different persons have different areas of belief that they hold sacred. While one person may have no strong beliefs about God, for example, they may have strong partisan political beliefs - or vice versa. They may be quite capable of objective evaulation and comment in one of these areas but not the other.

Another difference that I suspect true is that different persons develop (or are genetically endowed, perhaps) with a greater chemical need to attach their beliefs to strong emotions. Some persons tend to go through life seeking those attachments.

Strong passions were certainly a net benefit for early humans who faced death every day from an uncaring nature and other humans. Those who carried the most passionate clan loyalties and the religious instincts that cemented them in place were most likely rewarded with better mate choices and more offspring - who then were likely to be passionate believers in all that their clan held sacred as well.

I suspect that many of the problems of the modern world are the result of this inherited bias for passion in our beliefs. I am not saying that these are always counter-productive for human-kind. It would be easy to make that generalization but that's not my purpose. Instead, I would propose that there is another side to behavior choice that could be nurtured in society, generally, and in children so that it will be available to them when needed. That is the passionless practice of reason.

It is easy to imagine that the first humans had little ability for this - and that the advance of civilization is pretty well marked by a gradually increasing ability to reason without the passion of irrational beliefs getting in the way. Still, I can see many examples where passion is not only necessary but where good outcomes would not be possible without it. When someone attacks us there is no choice but to passionately defend ourselves. At some point we must stop trying to reason and defend ourself - by whatever means necessary. The Second World War was a good example where we as a nation, at some point stopped anguishing over the alternatives and got about killing large numbers of Germans and Japanese.

But even then, our success was at least partially due to our ability to manage the war more intelligently and rationally - than passionately. The passion was needed - but measured and applied skillfully - which is difficult to do. IMO the most admirable achievements of humanity have been examples of the skillful combination of passion and reason. I think that a successful strategy for life on the personal level - and for societies - is to be capable of both passionate competition and reason - but to develop the wise ability to choose when and where to apply each, and in what proportions. I'm sure I could use a lot of improvement here.

We all deal with this functional duality in our minds every day in terms of competition in society. Passion is good for advertisers, for example. People simply do not buy things unless they are emotionally committed to the purchase. Millions of dollars are spent every day to make us more passionate and more competitive - usually about specific products - but the aggregate effect is a general elevated competitiveness (and social stress) that comes to permeate our lives.

There are areas of life where passion and competition has deadly serious consequences. Religion is capable of generating the most ferocious passions as any world history book will show. The tragedy of 9/11 and the current state of religious war in Iraq provides a vivid example that will affect our lives for many generations to come. It's OK to hold passions regarding one's beliefs. But when those passions become competitive, religion invariably requires the demeaning of others' religions - and eventually, if left unchecked, attacking or killing members of other faiths.

I believe it is not the nature of religion itself, but the nature of the minds in which it dwells - as to whether religious belief can be a force for good or destruction. The passion for belief is inherent in all of us from our evolutionary past. It seems, no matter how strong or weak it may be, that capacity can be amplified culturally or by upbringing - to completely consume some lives.

At the same time, passion for belief I suspect has become less necessary as our species evolved. What was vitally necessary for the survival of small superstitious bands 100,000 years ago, has become an enormous wholesale destroyer of DNA in the modern world. And the most passionate believers - as in WWII - don't always win.

Has cultural evolution so outpaced genetic evolution that we are destined to reduce humanity to a more appropriate smaller number of more primitive bands again - that can better accommodate the passions of our belief systems and use them to advantage?

Possibly the greatest advance in the organization of human civilization was the secular US constitution and Bill of Rights that recognized the inherent right of all to happiness and equal treatment under the law - and the all-important notion of separation of the affairs of church and state.

The duality in society that reveals our liberal and conservative mind-sets is an indicator of this evolution-in-progress - the bitter struggle of passionate beliefs vs. a live-and-let-live approach - that allows people to believe whatever they wish as long as they don't impose their beliefs on others. The conundrum hidden in that struggle is that it's hard to live-and-let-live when someone is trying to put you in prison for smoking pot or having an abortion or trying to have a loving relationship with someone of the same sex.

The passionate religionists will therefore always have their way. They will get their belief wars - because they need them, because the chemicals in their brains demand them. And those who would try to avoid them, will always be the first to suffer the consequences of those chemically induced passions.

Such is the human condition. And I guess we are fortunate to have members here who illustrate the chemical determinism of the human mind, in all its wonderful permutations, so very well - including me.

Margaret

Fred H.
July 2nd, 2006, 06:05 PM
Tom: You would not eat pie unless you WANTED to eat pie. That's pretty clear to me.
Yep, me too Tom—freewill, choice, and responsibility, moral or otherwise.

But MM’s so-called hypothesis—that we humans are “driven by emotion to do what we do . . . driven to seek an emotional payoff for it”—would dictate that you didn’t eat the pie b/c you, per se, “WANTED” to eat the pie, but rather b/c you were “driven by emotion” to eat the pie, “driven to seek an emotional payoff” from eating the pie.

Fred H.
July 3rd, 2006, 12:42 AM
MM: Religion is capable of generating the most ferocious passions as any world history book will show.
MM is much too modest here—the vacuum of atheism, as the atheistic regimes of the 20th Century clearly demonstrate, along with Nazism’s survival of the fittest paganism, facilitated ferocity far more readily than did any religious/spiritual values in the 20th and previous 19 centuries, since religious/spiritual values generally serve as a mitigating factor against the excesses of state power and human behavior (although Islam admittedly has been a disappointment). Consider some 20th Century numbers: USSR, 1917-87—62 million mass murders; China (PRC) 1949-87—35 million mass murders; Germany, 1933-1945—21 million mass murders, etc., etc.
MM: Possibly the greatest advance in the organization of human civilization was the secular US constitution and Bill of Rights that recognized the inherent right of all to happiness and equal treatment under the law - and the all-important notion of separation of the affairs of church and state.
Well, I think that MM misses the art and subtly of the Founding Fathers, all deists and/or theists, certainly no atheists. The Preamble of the Constitution notes that the Constitution was established to, among other things, “secure the Blessings of Liberty.”

Blessings of Liberty? What did the deists/theists Founding Fathers have in mind? Any other documents that might give us a clue? Yep! The Declaration, where the Founders noted that we are “endowed by our Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.” And it was with the Constitution that these Rights, endowed by our Creator, were secured.

There’s a new book that some of the more fanatical atheists here may want to consider reading—American Gospel : God, the Founding Fathers, and the Making of a Nation , by historian and Newsweek editor Jon Meacham. Meacham, as noted in the Amazon Review:
. . . examines over 200 years of American history in its quest to prove the idea of religious tolerance, along with the separation of church and state, is "perhaps the most brilliant American success." Meacham's principal focus is on the founding fathers, and his insights into the religious leanings of Jefferson, Franklin, Adams and Co. present a new way of considering the government they created….

Meacham also argues for the presence of a public religion, as exemplified by the national motto, "In God We Trust," and other religious statements that can be found on currency, in governmental papers and in politicians' speeches.

Margaret McGhee
July 3rd, 2006, 02:15 AM
Fred sed, Consider some 20th Century numbers: USSR, 1917-87—62 million mass murders; China (PRC) 1949-87—35 million mass murders; Germany, 1933-1945—21 million mass murders, etc., etc. Actually these serve well to illustrate my point - that strong, emotionally held belief systems can completely take over the minds of their followers - demanding unquestioned obedience to a god-like leader and the violent destruction of non-believers. I don't care whether you call it National Socialism, State Communism or the latest Christian Crusades, like Bush's in Iraq - the emotional forces that create these monsters of humanity arise in the same brain centers and can have the same effect, as this study vividly shows. The results are different only by circumstance and the effectiveness of the killing weapons available, not by the nature of the belief system or its followers.

I guess you think that because your God is the symbol of Christianity that the Crusades and Inquisition never occured and that the Southern Christian churches that defended slavery by quoting scripture and sent the Confederate soldiers off to war with their blessings were really the good guys, your god's messengers on earth.

If the Constitution and Bill of Rights were supposed to enshrine the place of your Christian god in our government, as you claim, it's strange that there is no simple, straightforward statement to that effect anywhere to be found. Why is there no simple unambiguous statement that says that we are a Christian nation - to be guided by Christ's teachings. Why are the Ten Commandments nowhere to be found in those documents? That would have been very simple to include. This in a document that was worried over and edited carefully to cover all imagined possibilities for misunderstanding. Instead, we get token mention of some ambiguous "creator" without any apparent Constitutional function.

BTW, if our right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness were endowed by your creator (which apparently gives him - or you - the right to say how we can enjoy them) - why did humanity have to wait 20,000 years or so for human society to organize itself well enough and wisely enough to actually protect those god-given rights? Why do we need this man-made constitution at all? Wouldn't your all-powerful god have secured those inalienable rights for us - right along with dominion over the beasts and flowers of the field? Maybe he just forgot? Well, even then he forgot to give them to negroes and women, so maybe I shouldn't complain.

In any case, the founders' purpose was not to outlaw religion. It was to keep it in the personal domain - and out of the realm of government. The establishment clause states that "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion", which assured that government could not sponsor or favor any state religion. The deists and theists there certainly accepted that or would have insisted on some specific wording to the contrary.

Other Christian Dominionists like you are doing their best to re-write our nation's history and change the fundemantal nature of the Constitution - to turn us into a theocracy.

I'm not so interested in that as I am in the vivid example your post provides of the irrationality that can be caused by such strong mind infections. I would remind anyone reading this that your belief system is so strong that I'm sure you actually believe these farcical re-interpretations of history - I don't think you are being deceptive. They must provide you with warm feelings of satisfaction for the sense of protection they offer your beliefs. Do you feel the power of god in your heart when you attack us immoral atheists?

The war has always been between strong, emotionally held belief systems that take over people's minds, like yours - and scientific rationality. It is not between Nazis or Communists or atheists - and Dominionist Christians - as you would prefer to characterize it. All those, except atheism which is a non-belief, are actually just different versions of the same sickness. Try another frame, Fred. :rolleyes:

Margaret

Fred H.
July 3rd, 2006, 08:29 AM
MM: Instead, we get token mention of some ambiguous "creator" without any apparent Constitutional function.
“Token?” “Ambiguous?” As ambiguous as the fireworks we’ll see and hear tomorrow, July 4th, the day our Declaration of Independence was signed by the Founders? The Declaration unambiguously states that it is “self-evident” that we are “endowed by [our] Creator with certain unalienable Rights,” and that to “secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed.”

And sure enough, the Preamble of the Constitution notes that the Constitution was established to, among other things, “secure the Blessings of Liberty.”


MM: BTW, if our right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness were endowed by your creator (which apparently gives him - or you - the right to say how we can enjoy them) - why did humanity have to wait 20,000 years or so for human society to organize itself well enough and wisely enough to actually protect those god-given rights? Why do we need this man-made constitution at all?
It’s called freewill, choice, in this case of a people rather than just of an individual . . . and let’s face it, it does seem to take time for human enlightenment to evolve . . . or emerge, or be selected, or self-organize, or all the above.

BTW, regarding the abolition of slavery, as noted in Wiki, “Abolitionism had a strong religious base including Quakers, and (among Yankees) people converted by the revivalistic fervor of the Second Great Awakening in the North in the 1830s”; and also I’m not a born and raised “Southerner,” so my ancestors weren’t the ones, as MM seems to be insinuating, albeit a silly insinuation, that “defended slavery by quoting scripture and sent the Confederate soldiers off to war with their blessings.”

Happy 4th of July everyone.

TomJrzk
July 3rd, 2006, 10:13 AM
Yep, me too Tom—freewill, choice, and responsibility, moral or otherwise.Yes, you must have seen my point and your worry caused you to send us off on this sidetrack again. I'll accept that as a victory.

You already know that when I say 'wanted' I mean that your brain's current state caused you to make that choice. There's nothing free about will if it is dependent on the state of the brain. And the experiments I cited prove that it is dependent on the state of the brain. You even agreed that will is dependent on the brain.

I stand by my simplified characterization of MMs hypothesis.

Fred H.
July 3rd, 2006, 11:22 AM
TomJ: Yes, you must have seen my point and your worry caused you to send us off on this sidetrack again. I'll accept that as a victory.
Damn, it looks like Tom has proven the T&M repressor module/emotional payoff hypothesis—Tom receives an emotional payoff for an imagined “victory,” and then, apparently, his repression module is repressing any reality/truth that might jeopardize that emotional payoff. Yep Tom, you and MM win—congratulations, and happy July 4th.

Margaret McGhee
July 3rd, 2006, 01:10 PM
Fred, You seem to have avoided a follow-up on the side-track you diverted us to in your efforts to avoid justifying your religious view of downward causation.

Here's a reminder:

If the Constitution and Bill of Rights were supposed to enshrine a place for your Christian god in our government, as you claim, it's strange that there is no simple, straightforward statement to that effect anywhere to be found.

Why is there no simple unambiguous statement that says that we are a Christian nation - to be guided by Christ's teachings. Why are the Ten Commandments nowhere to be found in those documents - nor even a mention of them? Certainly, they would have been very simple to include, if that was in any way the founders' intention. This in a document that was worried over and edited carefully to cover all imagined possibilities for misunderstanding. Instead, we get token mention of some ambiguous "creator" - and then only in the Declaration, a lofty statement of moral justification for separation from England, in no way a document meant to describe the organization or operating principles of a new government.

BTW, if our right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness were endowed by your creator (which apparently gives him - or you - the right to say how we can enjoy them) - why did humanity have to wait 20,000 years or so for human society to organize itself well enough and wisely enough to actually recognize and attempt to protect those god-given rights?

You say, It’s called freewill, choice, in this case of a people rather than just of an individual . . . and let’s face it, it does seem to take time for human enlightenment to evolve . . . or emerge, or be selected, or self-organize, or all the above.

So, your omnipotent god controls everything that happens in the universe, and everything that ever happened - except when he doesn't, or didn't. I get it. But, I'm confused. Why should human enlightenment take time to evolve or emerge if we were made in God's image, anyway? :rolleyes:

Please explain why we need this man-made constitution at all. Wouldn't your all-powerful god have secured those inalienable rights for us - right along with dominion over the beasts and flowers of the field? Inalienable means - inviolable, unassailable, basic, natural; see absolute 1, inherent. Maybe he just forgot to make those inalienable rights inalienable? Well, even when he made them inalienable for white males in the USA he forgot to give them to negroes and women, so maybe I shouldn't complain.

In any case, the founders' purpose was not to outlaw religion. It was to keep it in the personal domain - and out of the realm of government. The establishment clause states that "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion", which assured that government could not sponsor or favor any state religion. The deists and theists there certainly accepted that or would have insisted on some specific wording to the contrary. You said, And sure enough, the Preamble of the Constitution notes that the Constitution was established to, among other things, “secure the Blessings of Liberty.” Well, that cinches it I guess. There must have been something I missed in the Federalist Papers where they decided that we'd be a Christian nation by ambiguous innuendo only - so that only a chosen few, like you, would know about it - and could tell us how to live our lives. :rolleyes:

Other Christian Dominionists like you are doing their best to re-write our nation's history and change the fundemantal nature of the US Constitution and our government - to turn us into a theocracy. For our entertainment value, let's see a real objective. scientific justification for your Dominionist premise - the kind that only rational unemotional intellects like yours can appreciate.

Please tell us again as clearly as possible, why it is that we are really supposed to be a Christian nation according to the wishes of the founders, but we just don't know it yet.

Margaret

Fred H.
July 3rd, 2006, 03:23 PM
MM: If the Constitution and Bill of Rights were supposed to enshrine a place for your Christian god in our government, as you claim….
Of course I never made such claims. But MM’s false and bizarre accusation here (along with many others here and in various other of her posts) does suggest that her so-called hypothesis—that we’re “driven by emotion to do what we do . . . driven to seek an emotional payoff for it”—is pretty much how she herself operates and therefore sees everyone else.

So MM has convinced me: MM’s hypothesis apparently is true for MM herself b/c she herself apparently is driven just by emotion to do whatever she does, driven only to seek an emotional payoff for whatever she does, and reality/truth rarely, if ever, enter into her “thought” processes and/or behavior. You win MM. Pleasant dreams, and have a lovely July 4th.

Margaret McGhee
July 3rd, 2006, 04:03 PM
C'mon Fred, Is that the best you can do? Sort of an addled version of "Whatever you say bounces off me and sticks to you?" ;)

You're right about the emotions thing, though. The difference between us is which emotional centers have the most influence over our behavior decisions. And, how much each of us is willing to harness our intellect toward affirming our hardened beliefs - vs. our respective willingness to be open to new knowledge and information that might provide better explanations of human behavior - and discuss those objectively.

Your posts are like a broken record - repeating one view, a religious one - in all its possible permutations - supporting a single vacuous and scientifically unsupportable conclusion, for months on end. Happy 4th to you too - and your downward causation.

Margaret

Margaret McGhee
July 3rd, 2006, 08:11 PM
And just to follow-up on my own post, As Thomas Jefferson wrote to the Baptists of Danbury (who were a religious minority in Connecticut and who had written to him to complain that in their state, the religious liberties they enjoyed were not seen as immutable rights, but as privileges granted by the legislature - as "favors granted.") :

"Believing with you that religion is a matter which lies solely between man and his God, that he owes account to none other for his faith or his worship, that the legislative powers of government reach actions only and not opinions, I contemplate with sovereign reverence that act of the whole American people which declared that their legislature should 'make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof,' thus building a wall of separation between church and state."

And George Washington directly disabuses the uninformed and Cristianist hopefuls in the treaty he signed with the Bay of Tripoli: The United States is in no sense founded upon the Christian doctrine.

(Ooops. I have subsequently discovered that this quote comes from John Adams, who was president when the treaty was signed, not George Washington, who was president when the treaty was negotiated.)

A happy and Christianist dogma-free 4th of July to all.

Margaret

Note: I found both of these googling. I can't remember where but the descriptive comments are not original.